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Step forward into the past

It's a while since I voted instinctively for the party I thought I believed in. I was so scunnered with the Tories in 1997 that I voted for James Goldsmith's Referendum Party. A decade later, I was voting for whom I thought was the best candidate rather than the best party.

And now? Being a political geek with a public-relations background, I take the trouble to look at party manifestos with a professional interest in content and style.

Labour's sunrise cover (or is it a sunset?) was such an audacious two fingers to the truth of the past 13 years that the artist must have had a gun put to his or her head. A white nuclear family in this socially- dysfunctional age, looking at a landscape of rolling hills with neat cornfields demarcated by poplars and soft deciduous trees. It's hardly Bradford or Bellshill. What, no urban sprawl creeping into the fields, no dual carriageway, no pollution in the air and no pylons like those that Donald Dewar sanctioned to rape Ayrshire's countryside?

A vision of the 1930s? Maybe. A vision towards 2011? Someone is having a laugh. Of course, our economy has not had such a horrendous recession since 1931, so maybe it was an attempt at retro-kitsch?

Inside, Labour's manifesto was intense and heavy on text, reflecting Gordon Brown's oppressive focus on micro-management and detail. I lost the will to live looking at the contents page. Most college prospectuses have more interesting designs.

The Tory manifesto has a plain cover inviting us to join the government. Well, we're certainly going to be paying for the last one for the next 50 years, so why not?

If ever there was a triumph of style over substance, this is it. I really love the look of the 1950s period illustrations, with various type sizes or cog wheels in the shape of Great Britain to say "We're all in this together" or "Get Britain Working".

There are lovely dog-eared looking illustrations that would make great posters in a minimalist Leith penthouse, saying "people power" and "bye, bye bureaucracy".

It evokes a time when Harold Macmillan told us we had "never had it so good", Annabel Goldie was playing hockey and the Tories won 55 per cent of the votes in Scotland. Misty-eyed or what? I looked for Dan Dare but only came up with David Mundell.

As for the Lib Dem and SNP efforts, the first looks like some packaging for a pharmaceutical product while the latter is so lacking in creativity that they must be saving their money until next year.

You might ask about the policies on education - but why? The laugh is that the manifestos are actually more different than the policies which were on offer.

Darling's recent budget revealed that Labour intended to double the national debt from pound;786 billion this year to pound;1,406bn in 2014. But, after all the huffing and puffing, the Tories said they planned to reduce that debt by only pound;8bn. Hardly the blood-curdling cuts we were told to fear. Thanks to compound interest, our national debt will have climbed some pound;6bn in the four weeks of the general election.

Education is devolved, and anything the parties said meant little, if anything, for Scotland (except that English education might continue to improve by comparison).

For instance, you may like the sound of the Tory Michael Gove's idea for new state schools created by charities and Swedish-style communities, and open to all. But first you will have to hope that today sees the party gain power; second, that they deliver the policy; third, that they make it work; and finally, that the policy turns out so good it convinces MSPs in Holyrood to copy it.

Brian Monteith used to think "don't vote; it only encourages them" was a joke, not a statement.

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